Is monogamy bad for marriages?

The New York Times has a lengthy article about the idea that marriages would be better if people just let go of the notion of monogamy as a universal expectation of married couples. The article features the views of sex advice expert Dan Savage:

Savage believes monogamy is right for many couples. But he believes that our discourse about it, and about sexuality more generally, is dishonest. Some people need more than one partner, he writes, just as some people need flirting, others need to be whipped, others need lovers of both sexes. We can’t help our urges, and we should not lie to our partners about them. In some marriages, talking honestly about our needs will forestall or obviate affairs; in other marriages, the conversation may lead to an affair, but with permission. In both cases, honesty is the best policy. … Treating monogamy, rather than honesty or joy or humor, as the main indicator of a successful marriage gives people unrealistic expectations of themselves and their partners. And that, Savage says, destroys more families than it saves.

Here is the phrase that jumps out at me: “we can’t help our urges.”

Isn’t the Christian answer to this: “No, we cannot. That is why we need God’s grace.”

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6 thoughts on “Is monogamy bad for marriages?

  1. Interesting comment by Mr. Savage. One wonders what his evidence is for the assertion that following one’s “urges”, by which he primarily seems to mean deviancies, will in fact help save marriages. Or for his assertion that you “can’t help” your urges. What does that mean? Are we mere beasts who are the unwitting tools of biological drives? How do these guys get a speaking platform with this tired old stuff?

    1. He argues that if we don’t accommodate our urges (either through spouses who go along or approve us seeking outlet elsehwhere) then we increase odds the marriage will not survive.

      He not only has a platform, but an influential one.

      His evidence, so far as I can tell, is anecdotal and personal. His appeal, I think, is based more on the fact that he normalizes behavior that people do not want to control. “Your fetish is okay,” is a message people want to hear.

      Christians have a different take, of course. Your fetish is a sign of the corruption of your will and the work of the evil one in your life. The fact that you can’t rid yourself of your urge or compulsion is because you are not strong enough on your own to fight sin and evil. You are a slave to sin. Only God can free you. (Or words to that effect.)

      To make that argument, however, requires holding fast to things that are under criticism even within the church.

  2. I think I will run this past my wife and see what she thinks. Then again maybe not. Meanwhile I have an urge to go fishing. Can’t help myself. I guess I don’t have free will after all. My urges take over.

  3. Now, see, I loved this article. I think that the above comments were taken out of the context of how they were framed, which was, ‘how do we define marriage?’ and ‘what is marriage for?’ and that the author of the article was making the case that by making strict fidelity the *only* arbiter of a successful marriage, perhaps decent or even good marriages are being thrown away needlessly because of one indiscretion. That in fact, if our primary value is something else -honesty, integrity, faithfulness, stability – then maybe sexuality is seen as part of this, but there is more room for each partner’s expression of that within it. I think it is a radical notion, and a way to positively explore what we think we are signing on for with a marriage covenant. But of course, I am noted for having a different experience :). Thanks for reading and commenting on my article, which brought me to your blog.

    1. Cathie, thank you for coming by to visit.

      I certainly saw the theme you touch on in your comment, but it struck me as much more of a minor note in Savage’s overall approach to marriage and monogamy.

      I share the conviction that marriage should be a place of honesty and forgiveness. Where possible, we should reconcile with those who we have pledged a lifetime of love and life. But that is a far cry from pre-arranged affairs and asking spouses to indulge a fetish even if they find it hurtful or repulsive.

      Of course monogamy is no the only measure of a successful marriage. I’m not even sure what the term “successful marriage” means. But just because other values and experiences are important does not mean we should adopt Savage’s prescription.

      I’ve preached a grand total of two wedding sermons. In both, I talked about marriage being a school for love. God binds us together with another person so we might learn how to love each other. This, of course, requires many things in addition to monogamy, but Savage’s “I can’t help my urges” philosophy strikes me as at fundamental odds with the marriage covenant.

      That’s my take.

      I appreciate your comment and taking time to come visit my little corner of the Internet.

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